Forest Composition and Growth After 9 Years on a Virginia Mine Site

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Virginia Tech. Powell River Project

The eastern USA’s Appalachian region contains abundant coal resources and supports extensive deciduous forests. Appalachia’s forests provide ecosystem services, including carbon storage, watershed and water quality protection, and habitat for diverse flora and fauna; and they supply high-quality hardwood timber to the world economy. Since 2006, some mining firms have been using a reclamation method known as the “Forestry Reclamation Approach” or FRA, for the purpose of restoring native hardwood forests on reclaimed coal mine sites (Burger et al. 2005). In 2001-2002, a prototype version of the Forestry Reclamation Approach was applied by Rapoca Energy Co. at a mine site in Buchanan County, Virginia. Company personnel worked with the authors to apply Virginia Tech’s mine reforestation guidelines (Burger and Zipper 2002) while remining and reclaiming an older mine site. Reclamation grading operations were conducted with the intent of avoiding surface compaction. A tree-compatible groundcover seeding mix was applied, and trees of species native to Appalachian forests were planted. Due to limited spoil availability and prior mining effects, a wide variety of mine soil types and conditions were left on the surface. Most of the site was bounded by unmined forest, providing opportunity for “seeding in” by volunteer species. Here, we report results of a site assessment conducted in summer and fall 2010, after nine growing seasons. Specific goals are to assess species composition and growth of the young forest, and to evaluate how community composition and tree growth responded to soil and site conditions.